- The trade deadline is still two weeks away, but the NBA might implode before then. The last 24 hours have featured crazy reports from all around the league, setting the tone for a wild rumor season.
Every now and then the NBA produces a news cycle that reminds the whole world that basketball is the best, weirdest and most entertaining sport on the planet. The past 24 hours have done just that. It began with whispers of Kawhi discord coming from San Antonio, it kicked into high gear with the Bucks' toppling of the Jason Kidd statue in Milwaukee, and then we were off. Then: Kevin Durant was taking shots at Clint Capela, Kevin Love was defending himself in team meetings, John Wall was losing to the Mavericks and getting roasted by J.J. Barea, DeAndre Jordan wasn't on the Clippers bench, Michael Jordan was refuting trade rumors, Damian Lillard was having fireside chats with a billionaire, and ... it was a great run.
For posterity's sake, and for the sake of any well-adjusted adults out there who don't live their lives checking Twitter every 90 seconds, let's run through the biggest highlights.
Kawhi Leonard is becoming distant
So here's where the day began. Around noon Monday, Adrian Wojnarowski, Michael C. Wright, and Zach Lowe contributed to the following report:
Months of discord centering on elements of treatment, rehabilitation and timetables for return from a right quadriceps injury have had a chilling impact on San Antonio Spurs star Kawhi Leonard’s relationship with the franchise and coaching staff, league sources told ESPN.
Under president and coach Gregg Popovich and general manager RC Buford, the Spurs have a two decades-long history of strong relationships with star players, but multiple sources describe Leonard and his camp as “distant” and “disconnected” from the organization.
That report included a fairly strong denial from Spurs GM RC Buford—"There is no issue between the Spurs organization and Kawhi"—so take that for what you will. San Antonio has been the most successful organization in the league over the past 20 years, but we're coming off 18 months of rumors that Lamarcus Aldridge was unhappy, all of which were denied vehemently by the Spurs themselves. Then a few weeks ago, Gregg Popovich emerged to more or less confirm every rumor we'd heard about the LaMarcus relationship the past two years.
Now: Does this mean Kawhi is going to request a trade and/or join Twitter to start tweeting cryptic things about his future? Probably not. It's possible, even likely, that this is a case of everyone being frustrated while the injury resolves itself, and everything will be fine once Kawhi is playing again. But it's worth monitoring. Leonard is one of the five or six best players in the league. While the entire sport obsesses over the futures of Giannis Antetokounmpo and Anthony Davis, both of whom are under contract for several more years, Kawhi is more accomplished than either one and is a free agent at the end of next season. And he might be frustrated in San Antonio?
The Kawhi injury situation was already one of the strangest stories of the season—no one in the NBA knows what's happening, why he's missed this much time, or when he might get back to 100%—and thanks to ESPN's report it just became even more strange.
Jason Kidd is done in Milwaukee
The Bucks have lost six of eight games, they got drilled by the 76ers over the weekend, and that was the end of the line for Jason Kidd in Milwaukee. He will be remembered for baffling lineup decisions and end-of-game strategies that defied basic math:
I wrote about Kidd's role earlier in the season. Aside from the funny end-of-game decisions that drove Twitter crazy, this was the right move because Kidd's limits made the future murkier for the entire team.
A coach who ignores lineup data and basic math is generally betraying a broader lack of intellectual curiosity, and that was certainly true with Kidd, who remained inflexible in his philosophy on both ends of the floor. And a bad coach makes everything more complicated. By failing to optimize the talent on hand, he makes it tougher for the front office to gauge what their roster really has, and what they need. That was the Bucks for the past few years—now they have another few months to make a run with interim coach Joe Prunty, and they'll begin a search for a new coach this summer. With Giannis under contract until 2021, they'll have no shortage of suitors.
Speaking of Giannis, in the immediate aftermath of the firing we were hit with reports that the Bucks superstar was crestfallen when he heard the news.
Jason Kidd may have been ham–fisted as a head coach, but he is Sun Tzu when it comes to managing the media.
Kevin Durant accidentally dunks on himself
Kevin Durant on Clint Capela saying Houston is a better team than the Warriors: “You hear that from guys like Capela, who’s usually catching the ball or laying it up from CP or Harden. His job is not as hard. I mean when your job is that hard you don’t say shit like that.” pic.twitter.com/lbiJ1Doxf9— Logan Murdock (@loganmmurdock) January 22, 2018
It's unfair to pretend that KD has an easy job in Golden State. He's great on defense for the Warriors, and he's a killer on offense, and he's one of the 30 greatest players of all time. So, no shots at KD, at least from me. But it's pretty funny to imagine how many team groupchats around the NBA must have included this tweet yesterday. There had to have been at least 10 rosters roasting him at once. Granted, all of those teams will eventually be vaporized by the Warriors on the court, but that was a given all along. On Monday afternoon, Spiderman memes won the day.
Speaking of losing to the Warriors ...
The Cavs had a team meeting
The Cleveland Cavaliers held an emotional team meeting prior to Monday’s practice, where several players challenged the legitimacy of Kevin Love leaving OKC loss on Saturday ill and missing Sunday’s practice, league sources tell ESPN.— Adrian Wojnarowski (@wojespn) January 23, 2018
LeBron James is settling in nicely to the "Puff Daddy in Making the Band" phase of his career on the Cavs, and it sounds like he decided to shut down the studio with the Cavs this weekend. Kevin Love was the target of his ire this time, because apparently the solution to not giving up 148 points to the Thunder (!!) would've been adding Love's defense to the mix. I don't know. It's very possible that LeBron is leaving this summer, but for now he wants a sugar cookie, so somebody better make it happen.
John Wall gets roasted by JJ Barea
Wall, who is coming off a dysfunctional team meeting of his own, has been in the midst of a season-long tribute to the late-90s and early-2000s NBA, a version of the league in which players were less professional, didn't take care of themselves in the offseason, and routinely signed massive contracts only to watch their game fall off a cliff. Monday night was just another chapter for Wall—it included a loss to the Mavericks and a classless shot at the point guard who outplayed him, before Barea responded with a blow that is deadly because it certainly seems accurate at the moment.
John Wall called JJ Barea “just a little midget trying to get mad.” Barea responds by saying he finally has someone in the NBA he doesn’t like. “I don’t think his teammates like him, either.”— Tim MacMahon (@espn_macmahon) January 23, 2018
Wolf season is not going well.
Meanwhile, in Charlotte
Kemba trade?! And then in Los Angeles...
What are the Clippers doing with DeAndre Jordan?
Asked Blake Griffin for a pic and he ran to the locker room yelling “9 fucking years!” Like he’s pissed off at something. The team? The fans? Himself?— Ricky Chu (@RikDaddy) January 23, 2018
This is a great example of how the internet has turned basketball news into a drug. A fan's random interaction goes viral, a team blog provides context that adds the requisite layers of intrigue, and everyone else gets to spend the rest of the night driving themselves crazy trying to interpret what's happening here.
For what it's worth: DeAndre Jordan signed an agent earlier this year, presumably because he's looking to secure his future either in L.A. or elsewhere. He can opt out of his contract this summer, or he could opt-in, making him a free agent in 2019. He hasn't played since suffering a sprained ankle 10 days ago, but the injury was supposed to be minor. Before this season, Jordan had missed five games in five years. Are you sure he's hurt? Are the Clippers holding him out because of trade talks? Did "nine f---ing years" mean nothing, or did Blake just tell that fan everything? Read the tea leaves!
Kawhi Leonard's Uncle Weighs In
From the San Antonio Express-News:
Disputing a report from ESPN, that described Leonard and his camp as "distant" and "disconnected" from the team, Leonard's uncle, Dennis Robertson, says there is no tension between the two parties. "There is nothing true to that story," Robertson told the Express-News hours after the story published. "Kawhi's camp and the Spurs are how they've always been – doing the right thing for the team and the right thing for Kawhi."
It was a strange day.
Michael Jordan Weighs In
“It’s not like we are shopping him. We would not just give him up. I love Kemba Walker. I would not trade him for anything but an All-Star player.”
“Hopefully, Coach is going to turn the season around,” Jordan said of Clifford, in his fifth season overseeing this team.
“I certainly haven’t given up on our best player. He’s done a hell of a job of turning himself into an All-Star.”
What did Damian Lillard say to Paul Allen?
The last time I read a story about Paul Allen, his mega-yacht had destroyed 80% of a 14,000 square-foot coral reef in the Cayman Islands. Before that, there was the time his helicopter had to make L as Allen was on his way to explore Antarctica. Per ESPN's Chris Haynes, Allen attended his first Blazers game of the year last Thursday, at which point he and Lillard spent an hour talking about the direction of the Blazers, mistakes made with Will Barton, and the options for both player and owner going forward. So, there you go. The more you know.
Did you see Boogie Cousins Monday night?
LeBron James saw Boogie Cousins Monday night
And that's where we end. Great 24 hours of basketball news. Now the trade deadline is two weeks away, the Cavs play the Spurs on TNT Tuesday night, and... actually, wait:
Kobe Bryant was nominated for an Oscar this morning
What?? This is beyond the realm of imagination. It means so much that the @TheAcademy deemed #DearBasketball worthy of contention. Thanks to the genius of @GlenKeanePrd & John Williams for taking my poem to this level. It's an honor to be on this team. #OscarNoms pic.twitter.com/M2joyk9D1V— Kobe Bryant (@kobebryant) January 23, 2018
That's where we end. Congrats to Kobe Bryant on his Oscar nomination.